Over the weekend, I called to check on my cousin Diana Hottell and her husband Bill, who live in Twisp.
Diana and Bill, longtime Twisp residents, knew one of the three firefighters killed last week while battling the Twisp River Fire. Tom Zbyszewski (pronounced be-SHEF-ski), 20, of nearby Carlton, loved drama, had been a lifeguard at the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and was about to head back for his junior year at Whitman College in Walla Walla.
The Hottells, who we’ve visited on a number of occasions, live in a charming older home on the Twisp River. We’ve enjoyed their hospitality, Diana’s cooking and sleeping in the cabin on the river that they built for the purpose of having some peace when guests descend, as they do when you live in a place like Twisp. We’ve attended their performances at the Antlers Saloon, where in the past Bill has played ragtime piano and Diana, the banjo, self-taught. Bill is a former Jesuit priest and also was with the Marine Corps for what that’s worth.
Bordered by a large field, their home was spared. They know three people who lost their homes in the fire, however. And when they went up the canyon to check on a friend’s vacation cabin, they found it burned to the ground. Strangely, the fire didn’t jump the river, Diana said.
In the decades the Hottells have lived in Twisp, the last two fire seasons have been the worst they’ve seen.
“It’s apocalyptic,” Diana said. “Last summer was unprecedented … until this summer.”
The U.S. is in the midst of
one of its worst fire seasons on record, according to an
article Monday in the Associated Press. About 11,600 square miles
have burned so far.
(Ian Terry /The Herald via AP)
In case you didn’t notice, over the weekend, Kitsap County was blanketed by a haze of rank smelling smoke from fires around the state. Although this is only the sixth-worst fire season going back to 1960, according to the AP, it’s the most acreage burned by this date in a decade, so fire officials expect the ranking to rise.
Adapting to fire season has become second nature to the residents of Twisp and other Eastern Washington communities.
When the town was evacuated last week, the Hottells knew the drill. Last summer, they piled two cars full, mostly with photo slides and maps from their youthful trips around the world and Bill’s more recent travels as a historical tour guide in the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East.
The threat of fire puts into focus the things that really matter Diana said. This year, the list got smaller. Once again, Bill’s slides and their family documents came along, but this time they only filled one car when they went to Spokane to stay with friends.
As other fires burn, the Twisp River Fire is largely contained, according to Diana, and life is returning back to normal, but the haze lingers in the Methow Valley and so does the feeling of being constantly on guard. Bill attended a meeting this weekend at the fire hall hosted by the mayor and other local officials. The meeting was packed. Residents are ready to help each other with proactive clearing of trees and brush around homes or, at a moment’s notice, to put up someone else’s livestock if a fire threatens a property.
The Hottells and others will keep an eye on the wind, tune into local advisories and hone their list of must haves, ready to pack up the car on any given day. In the meantime, they’ll carry on with their daily routines, which include playing ragtime for dances at the local senior center. According to a recent article in the Methow Valley News, the Hottells typically end their performances with the song “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”